Chalkboard Chat is an interview series highlighting the teaching artists and administrators who dedicate their time and expertise to ArtsConnection students. 

Image description: a portrait of Devan Manning looking at the camera smiling.
From teen program participant to ArtsConnection staff member: Inspiring Creativity and Growth Along the Way

As one of ArtsConnection’s In-School Programs Managers, Devan works with teachers, artists, school administrators, school coordinators, and parents to plan and carry out residencies in 17 art forms in schools across New York City.

What’s your earliest memory of being moved by art? 

When I saw my first Broadway show with my aunt, Wicked the Musical, I was so moved by the songs, set design, and costumes that I got excited about a possible career in the performing arts. Seeing Defying Gravity gave me goosebumps to the point that I almost cried because it was so powerful.

What kind of music did your parents play while you were growing up… and did the apple fall far from the tree? 

Growing up, my father would play rap songs in the car. He would play artists like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent. My top genre is always rap. Ever since he got me into it, I have been listening to it nonstop. I connect with artists’ lyrics that apply to my everyday life and even rap it myself for fun. My favorite artists are Jay-Z, Eminem, NF, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Notorious B.I.G.

What has been one of the biggest challenges?   

As a Teaching Artist my biggest challenge was getting out of my comfort zone. I have usually been someone’s assistant for so long that I have always followed orders. But taking over as a Lead Teaching Artist is a whole different story when you start calling the shots with the students and teachers. There are times I am too into my head of making mistakes and wondering if what I am doing is good and if it needs work. But I need to tell myself I am doing great, and I am always willing to work to improve what I do.

Any surprising rewards? 

The kids I was working with recently enjoyed my class a lot. When it ended, they wanted to keep on going and were looking forward to doing it again the next day. This gave me a lot of satisfaction.

How has teaching children changed your outlook on art? 

I believe teaching children any sort of art gives students the ability to think and be creative in any field they want to pursue. Everybody is an artist. The ability to create something no matter what career you are in is an essential tool. When I taught students at the 14 Street Y Theater about the history of musical theatre, they expanded their repertoire of songs for their upcoming auditions and even changing their favorite musicals to ones they had never heard of before, like Show Boat and The King and I. These experiences changed my outlook on teaching theatre because it showed the importance of introducing students the history of what came before and respect what came before.

Name an artist – living or dead – you’d like to have dinner with and why. 

Lin Manuel Miranda, because I want to have a discussion with him about how he is able to adapt hip hop into musical theatre. Not only that, but I also want to talk to him about his favorite musicals and rappers. I believe we have the same musical and rap tastes, so I know we can talk for hours over a steak or even pizza.

Why do you think the work we do at ArtsConnection is important?

I believe it is important to give everyone access to the arts. Whether during the school day or after school, it is important for students of all background to have the arts in their life. It can be theater, music, or dance but as long as a student has access to it and gets hands on experience, their lives are changed forever. It is a pleasure working at ArtsConnection because we can change students’ lives forever and we give them something essential to their lives that many schools cannot provide on their own.

Listen to Devan’s podcast where he narrates books for children, teens and young adults: